Lamar University’s Disability Resource Center recently announced a new policy setting clearer rules and guidelines for the presence of animals on campus. The result is that individuals with disabilities can more easily understand LU’s provisions and access from the assistance of a service animal.

Allie Valentine, a 19-year-old from Fort Worth, said that after a year with her service dog, Annie, she couldn’t imagine going through school without her.

“She’s essential to my educational success. She keeps me in class. She keeps me healthy enough to keep up with the things a normal student has to do,” said the biology major, whose studies include an emphasis on pre-veterinary medicine and a minor in chemistry.

Valentine battles with asthma and tracheobronchomalacia, a condition that means her entire upper respiratory system can shut down at any time. Unavoidable agitators, such as pollution, cigarette smoke, too much stress, or even hot weather can trigger an episode and lead to a 911 call.

“I’ve been in ambulances more times than I can count,” she said. “I was going to the hospital every two weeks before I got Annie.”

Valentine says the turning point for her was the spring of 2015 after struggling with worsening symptoms.

“I dropped 10 pounds, I was too exhausted to walk to class, and it was just too much. I talked to my doctor and told him I needed a better answer. He said I could try surgery, which might not work, or I could try a service dog,” she said.

Annie, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, has completed extensive professional training and is an expert at helping Valentine manage her conditions. She can anticipate the onset of an episode and warn Valentine by whining, pacing and showing other signs of anxiety. Annie carries Valentine’s many medications in a service dog vest, and if the student ever needs further help, Annie can bark on command with a hand signal.

Valentine’s medications include a specially formulated inhaler, a breathing treatment called a nebulizer, up to sixty milligrams of steroids, an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) and an oxygen tank— but calling 911 after the breathing treatments is the safest next step.

“If I have an episode, I will miss the rest of the day and part of the next day because I’m just so exhausted. It physically drains me,” Valentine said.

When Valentine first brought Annie to school, she said she was met with some surprise and confusion. Now, everyone is accustomed to Annie’s constant presence.

“Everyone knows Annie and says hi to her. I still get questions: am I training her? Is she my service dog? But for the most part, everyone at Lamar has been very supportive,” Valentine says.

Valentine feels the biggest support from LU has been the Disability Resource Center because of their help and accommodation in the process of bringing Annie on campus.

The center’s new policy, which defines service animals and emotional support animals and sets the terms of their use, will continue to protect the rights of current and future students who require additional support. The further benefit is that LU’s stance will be better understood and more uniformly upheld among its members.

“Our department had a solid foundation and used to have some general information, more or less, about service animals, but nothing as complete as the one just drafted,” said Kyle Mutz, director of the Disability Resource Center.  Mutz credits Erin Tabor, associate director of the Disability Resource Center, and LU’s Associate General Counsel Tammye Curtis-Jones, for their help in developing the new policy.

“The Disability Resource Center’s collective vision is to continue being innovative in establishing an inclusive environment at Lamar University and this new policy is only the beginning of some great things we have planned,” Mutz said.

Students with disabilities are welcome to bring service animals on campus while following the provisions of the university’s policy. Those qualified to bring service animals to LU do not need to request the university’s permission, but they are encouraged to notify the university in case it may provide any further assistance.

Emotional support animals may also be allowed to stay on campus in a student’s LU residence, but the student must request the university’s permission to keep the animal in university housing. Residence Life will work with the Disability Resource Center to determine the necessity of an emotional support animal.

“I know Lamar has always accommodated people who needed service dogs, but I’m really happy that now its all official. Now, if anyone has any questions or problems with me bringing my dog, it’s really helpful that I can say I’m fully protected under Lamar’s policy,” said Valentine.

Link to LU video on Valentine and Annie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z5PkMp7jyI&feature=youtu.be.